Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan (Getty)

    The best geopolitical podcasts to listen to during lockdown

    10 November 2020

    If geopolitics is your thing, then you’re spoilt for choice for good podcasts, with episodes reporting on just about every conflict and conundrum from across the world, including those that are not always covered in the news headlines. Here are seven of the best to get stuck into:

    The Rise of the Iron Men

    Misha Glenny

    McMafia author Misha Glenny cut his teeth reporting on the brutal Balkans wars of the 90s and 2000s, before turning his focus to organised crime and war lords. His new podcast – an exclusive to Amazon’s Audible platform – takes a look at a new archetype of politician increasingly gaining ground over the world.

    From Narendra Modi in India to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, this is the story of the iron men: the tough-talking national populists who disparage the rules of liberal democracy whilst romping home at the ballot box. Drawing on detailed reporting and insider stories, Glenny explores why this very modern creation may prove to be more dangerous than the dictators of the 20th century.

    The Impossible State

    Crowds gather for Kim Jong-un’s new year address (Getty)

    Few geopolitical issues fascinate outsiders like North Korea: the anachronistic Stalinist dictatorship that horrifies and frustrates the West in equal measure. While sensationalist documentaries are ten-a-penny, this think tank-produced effort brings together a team of the world’s top Korea watchers to take a deep dive into the world’s most secretive state.

    Beginning with Donald Trump’s infamous sitdown with Kim Jong-Un, the series veers a fascinating course between hardcore geopolitical discussions around missiles and militaries, fascinating palace intrigue, and some sideways takes on the reality of life in North Korea. Guests include former Ambassadors to Pyongyang.

    The Assasination

    Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan (Getty)

    Veteran BBC reporter Owen Bennett-Jones’s podcast on the assasination of Benazir Bhutto is a masterclass in long-form audio documentary.

    As you’d expect from an acclaimed Pakistan-watcher, Bennett-Jones knows his stuff – but he’s also a mighty good storyteller. Covering Bhutto’s return from exile to her election triumph and eventual murder (including an exceptional episode on the young killer himself) the podcast then unpicks the evidence of the unsolved crime, delving into the heart of Pakistan’s deep state.

    Also I will also never forget the time I happened to be listening to the podcast when I was pulled over at a military roadblock in Lahore. Luckily the officers didn’t check my phone – and were happy to wave us on.

    Chinese Whispers

    In a world where China hardly seems to be out of the headlines, The Spectator’s own Chinese Whispers – hosted by our China reporter Cindy Yu – seeks to get behind the shock and sensationalism and find out what really matters in Chinese politics, society and elsewhere.

    Recent episodes have included discussions on China’s true environmental footprint, the strategy of the ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats, and the Chinese fascination with luxury goods.


    Playing out like the most fascinating dinner party conversation you’ve heard, Conflicted is a series of long-form discussions between two men: documentary maker Thomas Small and his long-time friend Aimen Dean – a former Al Qaeda fixer and jihadi turned MI6 agent. Their mission is to provide a personal take on that most forceful of geopolitical issues: Islamic terrorism.

    While hearing about the internal workings of Al Qaeda is riveting enough, the podcast excels because of the chemistry – and more often than not the similarities – between Small and Dean. Small himself is certainly knowledgeable, but his real sell is being able take Dean in directions that no other interviewer could. And the result is compelling.

    Untold Killing

    Graves at Srebrenica, Bosnia

    For many podcast fans, the magic of long-form audio is the leeway to delve far deeper into an issue than would be possible with a mainstream radio documentary. And to do justice to as many different personal stories as possible.

    Of all the events that merit such treatment, the horrendous genocide of Srebrenica – a small Bosnian town that remains synonymous with bloodshed and ethnic violence – is certainly high on the list.

    Drawing on interviews with genocide survivors, experts, and witnesses to the resulting International Criminal Tribunal, Untold Killing asks uncomfortable – and compelling – questions about the darkest episode in recent European history.

    Bunga Bunga

    Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (Getty)

    A recent production from podcast supremos Wondery, Bunga Bunga – as you’ll have no doubt guessed from the name – charts the unstoppable rise of sleazebag statesman Silvio Berluscuoni, from his days as a nightclub singer turned media baron to his tumultuous reign as Italy’s longest-standing post-War prime minister.

    Hosted by US comedian Whitney Cummings, Bunga Bunga can’t resist the occasional Trump parallel but, to my mind, the show is at its best when it’s delving into Berlusconi’s awkward relationships with his fellow European leaders. It’s a reminder that even more cordial diplomatic relationships can easily go awry.